Functional Medicine’s Approach to Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease affecting more than 2.8 million people worldwide, causing fatigue, mobility problems, pain and an array of other issues that affect everyday life. It occurs when your immune system attacks the protective coating around your nerves, known as myelin. This slows down the communication between your brain and your gut.
Conventional medicine will tell you that nothing can be done to treat multiple sclerosis. The problem with conventional medicine is they aim to diagnose a disease and treat its symptoms without getting to the root cause. You will be given harsh medications that suppress the immune system and manage your symptoms.
As a functional medicine doctor, and an autoimmune patient, I know there is a better way and you can reverse your condition and eliminate your symptoms by getting to the root cause. I will tell you about my proven approach that I’ve used on thousands of patients and seen amazing results. Before I do that, let’s talk more about multiple sclerosis.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). When you have multiple sclerosis, your immune system mistakes the covering around your nerves as a foreign invader and begins attacking this fatty covering known as myelin.
This immune system response causes inflammation throughout the body, slows down communication between the brain and your gut, and damages myelin, which over time causes lesions and scarring of the nerve. As this damage gets worse, your body loses control over its muscle function, balance, vision, and the ability to feel sensations.1
It can be difficult to diagnose multiple sclerosis because the symptoms are so broad and no two people with MS have the same symptoms. I’ll talk more about that in just a minute.
Did you know there are also multiple types of multiple sclerosis? While each version consists of the immune system attacking the nerve coating, they have several crucial differences.
Types of Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is identified by one of four disease courses: clinically isolated syndrome (CIS), relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), primary progressive MS (PPMS), and secondary progressive MS (SPMS). RRMS is the most common type of MS and affects 85% of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.2 Let’s break down the four types of MS.
Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS)
Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) is the first episode of symptoms caused by inflammation and loss of myelin. MS only affects your central nervous system, but myelin is present in both the central and peripheral nervous systems.
CIS is 2 to 3 times more common in women than in men and is classified as monofocal or multifocal.34 Monofocal episodes generally only result in one symptom that is caused by a single lesion in the myelin. Multifocal attacks result in more than one sign or symptom and are often caused by lesions in multiple areas.
Although CIS is the term used to define a single, isolated episode, there is a high risk that it will turn into full-blown multiple sclerosis.
Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS)
As I mentioned, RMS is the most common type of multiple sclerosis and is when an MS diagnosis is made. Diagnoses are most common among people in their 20s and 30s, however, you can be diagnosed later in life.
RRMS is defined as new attacks (relapses or exacerbations) that cause new symptoms, followed by partial or complete symptom relief periods.56 Common symptoms of RRMS include fatigue, vision problems, bowel and bladder problems, numbness, and neurological problems such as brain fog.
Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS)
SPMS follows the relapsing-remitting course of MS. Though not as common as RRMS, some people will progress into the SPMS course where there is a worsening of nerve function. This is when most people with MS become disabled.
Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis is characterized by either active (with relapses) or inactive, as well as with progression or without progression.
Primary Progressive MS (PPMS)
Primary progressive MS (PPMS) is the final course of multiple sclerosis. It’s characterized by a steady decline in neurologic function from diagnosis. There are no exacerbations and no remission period.
The number of those diagnosed with MS that progress to PPMS is about 10%, and symptoms usually start between the ages of 35 and 39. PPMS usually causes more spinal cord lesions than brain lesions, which generally leads to difficulty walking.
I know all of this can sound scary. I don’t want you to worry. The good news is that by getting to the root cause of multiple sclerosis, you can reverse the progression of MS and eliminate your symptoms. Let’s talk about the signs of multiple sclerosis.
Signs of Multiple Sclerosis
Symptoms of multiple sclerosis vary in severity and duration from person to person. They can also change over time. Let’s talk more about the symptoms of MS.
A type of chronic pain usually seen in MS patients that causes a burning or stabbing sensation in the legs, feet, arms, and hands.
One of the most common symptoms of MS. Approximately 80% of people with the condition experience fatigue, making everyday tasks and working extremely difficult.
Difficulty walking, also known as gait disorders, is another common symptom in people with MS. It is related to muscle tightness, balance problems, severe numbness in the feet, weakness, and fatigue.
Numbness or Tingling
Numbness of the body or feeling like your limb is “asleep” is one of the earliest reported symptoms of MS. It can range from mild to so severe that you cannot use the affected body part.
Sudden, uncontrollable movement in the arms and legs, as well as sustained muscle contractions, are frequently seen in MS. It commonly occurs in the legs and causes pain and tightness in the joints.
Muscle weakness often occurs due to a lack of activity or damage to the nerve fibers.
Inflammation of the optic nerve is one of the most common vision problems seen in MS. It often occurs in one eye and can lead to blurred vision, loss of color vision, or pain with eye movement. Most of the time, vision comes back with proper rest.
Vertigo and Dizziness
Many individuals with MS feel unbalanced and dizzy. In some cases, a person may feel like the room is spinning. These symptoms are usually caused by the formation of a new lesion or growth of an older lesion on the cerebellum, the area of the brain that controls balance.
Difficulty urinating, inability to hold in urine, frequent nighttime urination and inability to empty the bladder are commonly caused by lesions that delay or block transmission of nerve signals in areas of the CNS that regulate the bladder.
A decline in sexual activity can be related to fatigue, weakness, or changes to nerve pathways that affect sexual function.
MS can affect nerve signals that regulate the bladder and bowel, resulting in bowel problems like constipation or fecal impaction. Bowel problems from nerve damage are referred to as neurogenic bowel dysfunction.
Pain & Itching
The nerve damage caused by MS can lead to pain that feels like a sharp, burning, stabbing sensation. It may also cause an itching sensation.
Many people with MS will experience mild mental changes such as difficulty retaining information, word-finding, concentrating, and remembering events from the past. Some medications prescribed to treat symptoms can also cause cognitive changes.
In addition to affecting your physical health, MS impacts areas of the brain that control emotions. In addition, the disease itself can be challenging to deal with, affecting a person’s mood.
Depression is one of the most common symptoms of MS. In fact, depression is more prevalent in people with MS than in the general population and other chronic diseases.
Less Common Symptoms
Slurred speech and difficulty controlling the volume of speech are caused by weakness or damage to the area of the brain that affects how speech is produced. Speech problems tend to occur later in the disease course and affect 25-40% of individuals with MS.
Loss Of Taste
MS impacts the ability to identify tastes, specifically sweet and salty.
Swallowing is a complex process that involves many nerves and muscles. In people with MS, the nerves that regulate the muscles that control swallowing can become damaged, causing problems. Weakness can also make chewing and swallowing difficult.
MS can cause tremors, or uncontrollable shaking, throughout the body due to damage to the nerve pathways responsible for coordinating movement.
Seizures, or uncontrolled electrical disturbances in damaged brain areas, occur in 2-5% of people with MS.
Due to loss of muscle strength and weakness, some people with MS may experience weakness in the muscles involved in breathing.
Around 6% of people with MS report hearing loss. In rare cases, hearing loss has been reported as the first sign of the disease.
Because symptoms are so broad and mimic other diseases, it’s hard to get a diagnosis. Conventional medicine rules out other possible diseases before making a diagnosis, which usually involves invasive and multiple tests.
How Multiple Sclerosis is Diagnosed?
There is no single test available to diagnose multiple sclerosis. If your doctor suspects you have MS, they will start by performing a complete neurological exam and eye exam to look for reduced nerve function. They may also recommend an MRI, brain wave test, spinal tap, or blood tests to rule out other conditions such as lupus, and nutrient deficiencies.
Conventional medicine doesn’t know how multiple sclerosis develops. However, in functional medicine, we believe there are five root causes of autoimmune disease. Let me tell you about them.
What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?
Before I became a physician, functional medicine expert, and a two-time New York Times bestselling author, I faced my own struggle with autoimmune disease. I desperately struggled with gut issues and chronic symptoms that nearly destroyed my life. Thankfully, I took control of my health. Conventional medicine failed me and it is my mission to not have it fail you, too.
Conventional medicine’s approach to autoimmune disease, including multiple sclerosis, is to treat symptoms rather than find the root cause of your autoimmune disease. In contrast, functional medicine sees the body as a whole unit instead of individual systems. Instead of focusing on your symptoms, functional medicine focuses on supporting and strengthening the immune system by getting to the root cause of the disease in the first place.
Autoimmune disease is a disease of your immune system, so to get to the root cause we must start there. Here are 5 underlying causes of autoimmune disease.
1. Leaky Gut
The gut is the gateway to health. It houses 80% of your immune system, and you can’t have a healthy immune system without a healthy gut. Leaky gut happens when the tight junctions that hold your intestinal wall together become loose.
Think of your gut lining as a drawbridge. Teeny tiny boats (micronutrients in food) that are meant to travel back and forth are able to go under the bridge without a problem. When you have a leaky gut, the drawbridge stays open letting bigger boats through that aren’t meant to pass through. Your immune system views these particles as foreign invaders and begins to attack them. This continual strain on your immune system eventually causes it to go haywire, and it ends up attacking your own tissues by mistake. This makes leaky gut one of the most common root causes of autoimmune disease.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and certain grains. It is now found nearly everywhere in our modern world. It is not only in flour-based foods such as pasta and bread, it is also used as a filler in meat substitutes, medications, and supplements. Gluten is the number one culprit of leaky gut because it triggers the release of zonulin in your intestines, a chemical that tells your gut lining to “open up.” It is also highly inflammatory, meaning it can cause stress to your immune system.
The effects of toxins on our bodies is complex. After all, there are thousands of chemicals out there, and we’re just beginning to understand how they work on the body–not to mention, how they work in conjunction with one another. What we do know is that a heavy toxic burden puts you at greater risk for developing an autoimmune disease, and there are a few theories as to why.
One thought is that certain toxins, especially heavy metals, physically damage your tissues. Your immune system no longer recognizes these damaged cells as part of your own body, and attacks them, thinking they’re foreign invaders.
Another theory is that the damage inflicted by toxins elicits an inflammatory response from the immune system. The constant assault of chronic exposure puts the immune system on high alert. It begins attacking everything – including your own tissues.
Scientists have long suspected that infections from bacteria, viruses, and other toxins were likely to blame as causes of autoimmune disease. There are now a number of infections, including Epstein-Barr (the virus that causes mono), Herpes Simplex 1 and 2, E. coli, that have been linked to autoimmune diseases.
Viruses like Epstein-Barr and herpes simplex never leave your system. However, you can suppress them by ensuring your immune system is healthy. The infection can become active once again when your immune system is suppressed by stress or illness. Once the virus is active, the inflammatory immune response damages tissue, which then causes more inflammation and a bigger response from the immune system. Autoimmune disease develops from that chronic state of inflammation.
Our bodies are designed to handle acute stress. Some stress is necessary to keep your immune system sharp and help you stay alive in dangerous situations. Yet, prolonged, relentless stress can contribute to leaky gut, adrenal fatigue, insomnia, heart disease, anxiety, and autoimmune conditions.
When you have constant stressors in your life, your immune system never really gets to turn off. Your inflammatory immune response is activated for too long and eventually goes rogue, attacking your own bodily tissues. Pretty soon, your stress hormones try to suppress the response but go overboard, leaving you with a weakened immune system.
Now that you understand the causes, let me show you how to take back your health and begin reversing your autoimmune disease with my proven method that I’ve successfully used with thousands of patients. I call it The Myers Way®
Functional Medicine’s Approach to MS
The Myers Way® is based on functional medicine, a medical approach rooted in science that looks at how all systems in the body interact with one another and seeks to get them functioning optimally.
The Myers Way® addresses the root cause of your health problems, eliminates your symptoms, helps you get off medications, and allows you to live a vibrant and pain-free life. This approach rests on four pillars.
Pillar I: Heal Your Gut
You begin by healing the gut. In functional medicine, we use the proven 4R approach:
- Remove the bad – Get rid of things that negatively impact the environment of your GI tracts, such as toxins and inflammatory foods, as well as intestinal infections such as SIBO and yeast overgrowth.
- Restore what’s missing — Add HCL and digestive enzymes to your daily regimen to help support digestion and nutrient absorption.
- Reinoculate with healthy bacteria — Restore beneficial bacteria with a probiotic supplement to re-establish a healthy balance of bacteria to heal your gut.
- Repair the gut — Provide the necessary nutrients to help the gut repair itself. Leaky Gut Revive® Max supports your immune system and gut lining. It now comes in three different flavors to satisfy various taste buds. Adding collagen protein or drinking bone broth will also help to heal your gut.
Pillar II: Get Rid of Gluten, Grains, and Legumes
Once you’ve healed your gut, it’s time to make diet changes and eliminate foods such as gluten, grains, and legumes that cause damage to your intestinal tract and inflammation. I also recommend that those with autoimmune diseases avoid vegetables in the nightshade family, which includes peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes. These plants are very high in lectins that damage the gut lining, quickly enter the bloodstream, and do not break down in cooking.
Pillar III: Tame the Toxins
Many patients notice improvement after addressing the first two pillars. However, when I saw patients whose symptoms didn’t improve, I knew there was more work to be done.
We are exposed to thousands of toxins every day, and they are found in the water you drink, the air you breathe, food, cookware, cleaning products, and cosmetics.
Unfortunately, we cannot altogether avoid toxins. As such, the solution is to reduce your body’s toxic burden by:
- Buying clean skincare and body products
- Cleaning your air by getting a HEPA filter for your home. I use AIRDoctor® air filters in my home.
- Buy clean food and eat organic whenever possible. It can be expensive, so if anything, buy free-range chicken, grass-fed beef, and wild-caught seafood.
- Clean your water by installing water filters on your shower taps and sinks. I have a complete filtration system from Aquasana.
Pillar IV: Heal Your Infections and Relieve Your Stress
If your symptoms haven’t cleared up after addressing the first three pillars, it’s time to dig deeper. The fourth pillar of The Myers Way® focuses on healing your infections and relieving your stress.
To relieve stress, I suggest adopting daily stress-relieving strategies. A few of my favorites include breathing exercises, listening to music, dancing, taking a long walk, or practicing yoga.
For total support, The Myers Way® Autoimmune Kit combines four of the most important nutritional supplements for anyone concerned with autoimmunity. Your immune system is a complex puzzle influenced by multiple aspects of health. The integrity of your gut barrier, oxidative damage done by free radicals, inflammation, toxic load and detoxification, and much more all play a role in how your immune system functions.
Conventional medicine will tell you that you will live with multiple sclerosis for the rest of your life. I’m here to tell you that following The Myers Way®, you can reverse your autoimmunity and achieve optimal health. As an autoimmune patient and functional medicine physician, I’ve seen the success of The Myers Way® firsthand with patients, including myself.
- The Gut-Brain Axis in Multiple Sclerosis. Is Its Dysfunction a Pathological Trigger or a Consequence of the Disease?. Benedetta Parodi and Nicole Kerlero de Rosbo. Frontiers in Immunology. 2021.
- Types of MS. MS Society UK. 2022.
- Clinically Isolated Syndromes: Clinical Characteristics, Differential Diagnosis, and Management . Hüsnü EFENDİ. Archives of Neuropsychiatry. 2015.
- Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS). National Multiple Sclerosis Society. 2022.
- What is Multiple Sclerosis. Johns Hopkins medicine. 2022.
- Relasping-remitting MS (RRMS). National Multiple Sclerosis Society. 2022.
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